Responsible Resource Recovery

NCS Oilfield Services

In a recent interview, Strategic Business Manager Eric Schmelzl confided that, though he likes to jibe that NCS stands for “Nouveau Completion Systems”, actually “NCS” represents the initials of three of the company’s founding partners. With twenty-plus years under his belt with one of the world’s largest oilfield service companies, Eric brings experience in both sales and engineering management to his role at NCS.

When shale gas extraction was on the cusp of becoming mainstream, Eric came to the realization that many of the products that were in common use in the industry for this new way of drilling and completing horizontal wellbores weren’t optimally fit for purpose. When a couple of former colleagues started working at NCS, Eric became intrigued with their business ideas and the direction of the company’s focus. NCS now specializes in multistage completions, offering a unique blend of speed and accuracy in fracture placement, while maintaining an unobstructed and accessible wellbore for the life of the well. Well accessibility and integrity are the cornerstones of the NCS mantra: “Leave Nothing Behind”, which speaks to the importance of successfully recovering targeted reserves in a cost efficient and environmentally friendly manner, and doing it correctly the first time.

Shale gas, a home grown and abundant source of energy, has been proven to be cleaner than other fossil fuels and fracturing to recover it follows a fairly simple process, according to Eric. “The process can employ a number of different potential fluids,” he explains. “Water, oil, carbon dioxide or nitrogen and essentially any other gas or liquid that can be pumped under pressure to crack the reservoir rock could be used in the process. Generally, solids are added to the fluid to keep the fractures open after you’ve put them in place, and ninety-nine percent of the time natural sand is used for that purpose.”

Eric explains how the application of hydraulic fracturing has transformed the oil and gas industry in recent years. “In a nutshell, what NCS allows operators to do is to take the process known as ‘hydraulic fracturing’ into a horizontal well bore, and segment that well bore up in such a way that you can place these hydraulic fractures at specific locations along its length.”

Much precision and reliability is required in that process, as the completion of the well can represent more than 50 percent of the overall well costs. The NCS Mongoose BHA has a long track record for reliable performance in the harsh downhole environments that are common during hydraulic fracture treatments, having successfully placed over 44,000 frac stages, and one billion pounds of proppant – remarkable achievements in just a few short years.

Says Eric, “The rock that we are fracturing varies from softer, more ductile rocks to very hard, brittle shales. When you apply hydraulic pressure to it, it can part in different ways depending on the rock properties and depositional history. In Western Canada, many formations will tend to fracture along a single plane, similar to a crack in your windshield. That can be very useful in designing and delivering optimal resource recovery strategies where the placement of individual fractures in predetermined locations facilitates a well designed resource recovery plan. Ultimately, it is the reservoir properties that determine the most appropriate completion method, and we strive to do what’s right for the rock.”

Not without its share of controversy, the most frequently discussed environmental issue surrounding the fracturing process is the use of water. Eric explains that, “Unfortunately most of the service companies don’t yet have fracturing fluids that are one hundred percent amenable to using non-potable ground waters. There are tremendous amounts of water underground in deep formations that are undrinkable, so the use of those fluids would be ideal from an environmental perspective, and prevent any potable water removal from the water cycle.”

Until the use of produced saline waters becomes feasible in a broader range of applications, minimizing waste is one of the company’s key focus areas, and NCS’s processes have reduced water use by as much as 50 percent by eliminating unnecessary fluids from being pumped into formation.

“Hydraulic Fracturing has been going on for over fifty years in Canada, never having contributed to ground water contamination or any other significant environmental issue. The media and politicians have basically jumped on the anti-fracturing bandwagon, with little if any knowledge of the technology and its long, safe, and successful history. Years ago there was no public interest in fracturing operations, but now that it has become a political weapon, many are scaring people with it because the public often don’t know anything about it.

“In my opinion, this is manipulation of the public to try to force some very bad political decisions by certain organizations. Fear tends to make people irrational, and it can polarize issues to the point that the public is no longer interested in the facts. Distrust fuelled by misinformation can induce otherwise logical, rational people to yell and shout on street corners, exhorting that they would never be satisfied with the use of hydraulic fracturing, irrespective of the facts that demonstrate its long history of safe application. I find this rather bizarre but it’s always the part that gets in the news, and the fervor often seems to produce the illusion of validity.”

Some environmentalists have also asserted that hydraulic fracturing may induce seismic activity. Eric counters, “The rock in the Western Canadian sedimentary basin is always under stress from the mountain building events. In general, we could be better off to release those pressure points in small doses rather than allowing them to build up over time and possibly result in a much larger energy release. There is a natural pre-supposition that ‘all earthquakes are bad,’ but that may or may not be the case, and further study is certainly warranted in that area. There have been instances where seismic activity has been directly linked to fracturing operations, but to date none have caused any damage of any kind.”

NCS designs all its own equipment with third party manufacturing and has adopted the use of Coiled Tubing in its methodology, making the whole process fast and reliable. Eric elaborates, “The NCS method leaves the well bore without any obstructions when we are finished. Screenouts are easily and quickly resolved, risks are reduced, and the collection of downhole pressures adds to the value received through the application of the NCS process.” Removing uncertainty about the state of the reservoir and the fractures induced delivers the “Responsible Resource Recovery” that NCS is focused upon.

When asked about the future of NCS, Eric was quick to explain: “The company assures its success by bringing on people who are at the very top of their field. We have never had any period where we have been struggling to find people,” Eric says. “In fact, in general, when the industry is booming and people simply cannot be found, we had a significant waiting list of top notch people wanting to come and work for us.”

Particularly proud of his fellow team members, Eric says, “The majority of our field people are independent contractors and, because of the way our organization is structured, we have been able to hand pick people known to us as exceptional individuals. Almost everyone that works for NCS has been invited to be here or referred to us by a trusted source, which creates a very positive and cohesive working environment.”

NCS has a number of new projects on the horizon. “We just came out with a new product called ‘The AirLock’ which allows operators to float their casing strings into long horizontal sections. We have been doing field trials and currently have about fifty or sixty of these in the ground so far and everything is going exceptionally well.” This is a very exciting addition to the NCS product line, as it further reduces operational risks and the costs associated with long horizontal wellbores.

Eric adds, “A new hybrid completion utilizing open-hole packers combined with sliding sleeves is another new innovation NCS is introducing to the industry. This combination offers definitive data to quantify the effectiveness of the open-hole packers in the containment of fracturing pressures. As a result, operators can benchmark the resulting well production, and understand which intervals of the wellbore may be under-stimulated.” That is something that ball-drop completions cannot provide without adding expensive monitoring systems, while the information is easily and inexpensively captured using the new hybrid style completion.

These and other innovations are slowly but surely changing the face of the industry. “We used to drill vertical wells for half a million dollars and if you messed up, you could drill another one a few hundred metres away and carry on,” Eric explains. “Today many of these wells cost somewhere between four and twelve million dollars. This leaves little economic justification to drill another one should the first well fail to meet its objectives. Operators have but one chance to apply the correct well construction and completion method that will need to serve its purpose without fail.

Indeed, NCS Oilfield Services is all about “responsible resource recovery” as Eric likes to put it. Precise and efficient fracturing combined with a lower fluid use makes the application of the company’s technology a responsible option for well completions and can also result in cost savings for operators.

July 16, 2018, 6:46 AM EDT

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